Oh Canada! Six months into Ontario being regulated, Gaming Americas has kicked off its first Ontario-centric series of roundtables, bringing together the brightest and best from across the gaming scene to talk the latest on market developments.
With every base covered, from US influence on Canadian gaming, to player preferences and key verticals – we kick things off with Andrei Andronic (AA), General Counsel at Playson, Alexia Smilovic Ronde (ASR), Director of Compliance and Regulated Markets at Relax Gaming and Andreas Koeberl (AK), CEO at BetGames.
This one’s not to be missed, read on to find out more!
Welcome to Gaming Americas’ first Ontario roundtable! Can you talk us through your company and what you’re bringing to the table in Canada?
(AA) Playson is a leading developer which supplies innovative content to online operators in over 20 regulated markets. Our offering consists of almost 80 exciting casino games, as well as some fantastic promotional products.
We hold a recognition notice in Malta, as well as licenses in the UK, Romania and Greece – all of our games are tested and certified for all major European territories, and we’re always looking to expand our presence across the globe. Thus, our entry into Ontario’s online market gives us the opportunity to provide enjoyment to more players and meet our goal of fulfilling the needs of slots enthusiasts across the world.
(ASR) Relax Gaming is one of the iGaming industry’s leading suppliers of unique gaming content, having developed more than 4,000 online casino games hosted by more than 700 operators worldwide. In addition to this, we’re also an aggregator, providing content through more than 70 partner studios.
In terms of what we bring to the table in Canada, we were one of the first suppliers to enter the newly regulated Ontario market back in April this year. We debuted with over 130 games across multiple operators, with over half of these games deriving from 16 of our partner studios.
Our entry into Ontario marked the start of Relax Gaming’s expansion into North America and has so far proven incredibly fruitful with players enjoying a host of our most popular titles including Money Train 3 and Beast Mode.
(AK) BetGames is an innovation-driven live entertainment supplier. Our roots are in casual, non-mainstream live casino games. We don’t do roulette or blackjack but rather we aspire to build a perfectly complementary portfolio bridging sports fans and casino.
This unique approach has led to three product verticals: BetGames Classic, a new branded gameshow vertical called ShowGames, and our newest baby and biggest ambition yet, TWAIN SPORT, a live-action sports betting product. ShowGames, which is currently exclusive to industry giant Entain, and TWAIN SPORT, available to all, will be the product lines we want to push into the Canadian market. These will both target the new generation of causal player who values short-form, live-action.
We’re one of the first to respond to this new generation’s demand for premium, high-frequency live content, offering a permanent thrill with the highest integrity possible. The first sport, T-Basket, a basketball-themed game as the name implies, will surely be very interesting for the Canadian market. The overwhelming feedback from both international bookmakers and local lotteries led us to prioritize Canada as key – especially given its fast-growing basketball betting landscape. There is a lot of buzz around Ontario, and we have the perfect product(s) to differentiate and target the future generation of players.
Given we’re now a few months into regulation – what’s been your experience going live in the market and how much demand are you seeing for casino?
(AA) Well, we’re still in the process of going live, although we can certainly see that the demand for online casino is high, as the AGCO has highlighted a shortage of licensed suppliers in Ontario. I feel a turning point for the market will be when the province completes its transition from a grey market and all the demand shifts towards the licensed entities.
(ASR) First and foremost, I would like to commend Ontario’s lawmakers for regulating the market across multiple verticals in such a short timeframe, it was a genuinely impressive feat. The dynamics between iGaming Ontario, operators, and suppliers like us are working very well although different to the usual licensing process.
For Relax, the experience of going live in Ontario has been a smooth one. There was clearly a strong demand for online casino in the province and players have proven that by playing our award-winning portfolio of games in their droves. The local regulatory framework and constant oversight from the authorities offer a good balance between sturdy player protection measures, responsibilities of all the participating parties, and pragmatism in this early period of regulation.
Moreover, with the recent end-of-transition period consented by the AGCO, came a new wave of operators’ licensing, which should kick-start a new phase of development for everyone involved.
(AK) At BetGames, we’re just getting started! What we see is an enormous appetite for gameshows and TWAIN SPORT. We have multiple pitches a week and even the local lotteries are keen.
Furthermore, the AGCO is a very sensible regulator, open-minded and interested in dialogue, which is really refreshing. So, the demand is clearly there, we now just need to push on with the rollout. BetGames Classic titles are live with a handful of operators and doing well, although the focus is on the other product lines. I believe there are so many reasons to see an outstanding landscape for growth here, and we see great things ahead.
Given the U.S. has an extensive land-based casino heritage with Las Vegas and Atlantic City, how much do you see that influence carrying over into Canadian players?
(AA) When it comes to players, Canada comes across as having a slightly different demographic pattern. The land-based influence is still high, but what we are finding is that the newer generation of players are having a major impact on the shift towards online entertainment, as they are more familiar with online gaming via mobile devices rather than heading into brick-and-mortar casinos to spin on slot machines. Additionally, the forced closure of casinos due to the pandemic, as well as emerging trends and challenges, have certainly sped up the demand for online gaming in the last few years.
(ASR) Like the United States, Canada also has heritage in the land-based casino sector, as well as a strong influence from Tribal gambling operations in some of its provinces. However, the online gambling scene in Canada will differ from USA’s, as online operators will be in competition with land-based casinos that are migrating operations online or expanding their online division across the border.
The organisation of licensed activities is much more flexible in Canada, reflected in its uncapped amount of licensing limits. As all online entities are licensed free of any land-based agreements, each one must work under the province operator – iGaming Ontario’s umbrella. This could appear more restrictive but in reality, it creates a levelled playing field with a more free-flowing environment for stakeholders whilst still fostering more aggressive, controlled competition.
One thing worth noting is that Canadian players are used to diversity and are likely expecting this. The market was thriving until its regulation in Ontario, truthfully, we’re yet to see it fulfil its potential following the introduction of more licensed operators. The second quarter of operations is showing a very positive trend of players’ channelisation toward the regulated offering and this should continue as more well-loved casino brands enter the regulated space.
(AK) Canada has several advantages over the US, especially in modern, booming verticals like live entertainment. While in the US you need to build local studios, Canada allows you to leverage your existing – in our case European – studios.
This is just one example, one that allows some products to enter the market and reach players more rapidly. Surely, with the US opening up and now considering certain other casino products, this will push investments even further for the entire North American continent. Interestingly, however, our approach is vice versa, we are testing our concepts in the Canadian market to see the player’s appetite before targeting the US – we’ve seen other small suppliers do so with great success, and we’re looking to do the same.
Diving deeper into player preferences, what casino verticals are you seeing resonate most strongly with players and how much potential do you see in cross-selling casino to sports fans?
(AA) For us, it’s quite early to identify a number one when it comes to the preference of players. Classic slots are still preferred by a significant amount of the market, while sports fans might be more attracted to the ‘live’ games provided by studios.
(AK) From what we see, the classics are still taking the lion’s share. The live vertical is massive with roulette (including roulette-based gameshows), blackjack and even baccarat generating the vast majority of turnover. Slots are a given though, just like everywhere else. The market is developing quickly, so I think we will see some shifts towards casual, more entertainment-focused games and as a sports-crazy nation, this gives us a real edge with massive cross-selling opportunities across our product lines. That’s where our roots are, and that’s what we do best. With our fantastic options to fill next-gen demand, we are one of the few suppliers that can offer this to operators.
Last but not least, looking to the next 12 months – how do you see the market shaping up and where do you expect we’ll be by this time next year?
(AA) Given the impressive start and enthusiasm around the new regulatory regime, the market is looking at a steady and significant growth. A key role will be played by the AGCO, who recently assured that it will take aggressive measures against non-compliant operators. This will be an interesting tone set that will have to be observed, especially in connection with the bank reticence as well as police and political reluctance to enforce the law in Ontario.
(ASR) The next 12 months are going to be incredibly interesting. Expectations were high for the market, and despite the undisputable regulatory success of setting a pragmatic, holistic, and efficient regulatory framework – the results are not necessarily matching up at this point.
For me, the aggressive conversion of operators to licensed operators is key if Ontario is to reach its potential and deliver the successful regulatory blueprint that could serve other provinces. It’s fair to say that the introduction of a grey market exit-deadline has prompted a quick reconsideration from some stakeholders that might have been on the fence so far, and we’re seeing the initial effects of this already.
However, the most important development that should happen in the Canadian market in the coming months should be the regulation of other provinces such as British Colombia and Alberta. We can only hope to see consultations underway to open the market in the coming months.
(AK) Given the high player value, I would expect to see the current high interest in the market continuing until at least late 2023. Then probably, like with all high-potential markets, we will see some consolidation.
A huge positive for us is that we offer a complementary portfolio that allows operators to differentiate, and we give them products to cross-sell catering to sports bettors and casual casino players. So, in short, I don’t see the push from operators and suppliers levelling off in the next 12 months. Ontario, and indeed Canada offers a fantastic platform for growth given that the market’s conditions allow for a competition-friendly environment.